Saturday, March 10, 2018

Halt and Catch Fire Season 2

This post comes out of a new series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to mini-podcasts I'm doing with Sean T. Collins answering questions by listeners of the podcast. Give the Patreon a look!
 I now finished season 2 as well. Without Sean's explicit endorsement, I think I would've aborted my watching of it. In some ways, season 2 corrects some of season one's problems, but in other ways, it exacerbates them.
Let me start with the first category. The shift in focus to Cameron and Donna is really helpful in terms of creating some characters that are not only magnetic, but also sympathetic and interesting. The series takes the bold step to seperate its main cast. So Joe is trying to work with the fallout of season 1's events. Gordon is trying to find a new occupation after Cardiff's sell. Donna and Cameron work together at Mutiny.
It was a clever decision to set the series over a year after the first season, with a lot of things having happened in between. You're up to speed pretty quickly, and have to accomodate with a new status quo. Since Donna and Cameron are now partners, their new firm - Mutiny - takes center stage, and with it the first seeds of the web, social networks and online games.
For those two characters, who are put firmly in the center of the new season, all the character dynamics work perfectly. The ups and downs of the pre-silicon-valley-economy, the problems in their respective relationships, their ying-yang-type of personalities clashing and complementing each other is all great, and the women characters are freed from the shackles of their shallow, male-centric characterizations from season 1.
The same cannot be said of Joe and Gordon, however. Gordon remains the weak link of the series. He gets a debilitating illness in this season, but it doesn't serve the intended effect of making him more sympathetic or interesting. Joe, on the other hand, has a marriage that has a giant neon sign "TEMPORARY" nailed over it, and he needs to try and work himself up at the firm of his father-in-law, a plot that seems like a tired best-of-reel from season 1.
Even worse, the gender and workaholic stuff intrudes again and again without the series acknowledging it. As in season 1, the deference to the male characters by females has Sorkinesque qualities to it, and the side characters at Mutiny are really, really irritating. They're basically a proto-Gamergate crowd, yet, the series isn't acknowledging this, but rather treats it as an efficient off-hand. Much like in season 1, it's using clichees instead of characterization, and it reaches into some really murky wells with it.
Lastly, the season at times feels like another first season, building up characters and character arcs with seeming disregard for what happened in season 1. Joe especially remains a complete cipher. Donna seems to have completely shrugged off her season 1 persona (mercifully). Cameron organically evolved, while Gordon just stagnates. It's a weird mix.
When the season ends, Joe is on top of things again. Gordon seemingly accepted his new role as his wife's employee and inferior. Cameron and Donna have a stronger relationship than ever. Even Jon seems to have found a useful role for himself. It remains to be seen if this new setup will lead to something this time, or whether season 3 will be yet another complete reboot. Given Sean's recommendation, I'd expect the former. Fingers crossed.

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